Article| Volume 16, ISSUE 5, P243-251, September 2006

The effect of employment status on breastfeeding in the United States


      In the United States, more new mothers are part of the work force than ever before. This trend has implications for many child-rearing practices, including breastfeeding.


      Based on a national sample of new mothers (n = 228,000), this study considered the prevalence of the initiation and duration of breastfeeding to 6 months after delivery in 2003 among women who were employed full time, who worked part time, or who were not employed outside the home. Breastfeeding trends since 1984 were also considered.


      In 2003, at the national level, the prevalence of the initiation of breastfeeding and breastfeeding to 6 months after delivery were 66.0% and 32.8%, respectively. In the hospital, mothers who worked part time had a significantly (p <0.05) higher rate of breastfeeding (68.8%) than those who were employed full time (65.5%), or who were not employed (64.8%). Working full time had a (p <0.05) negative effect on breastfeeding duration. By 6 months after delivery, 26.1% of mothers employed full time, 36.6% of mothers working part time, and 35.0% of nonworking mothers breastfed their infant. Mothers who were not employed were more than twice as likely to breastfeed at 6 months than mothers who worked full time. Breastfeeding trends since 1984 indicated a large increase in the rate of breastfeeding at 6 months after delivery among full-time working mothers (204.5%). However, rates for these women have not yet reached those of mothers who worked part time or were not employed.


      To ensure that the Healthy People 2010 goals for breastfeeding are achieved (75% in the hospital and 50% at 6 months), programs designed to support working mothers who choose to breastfeed must be continued and strengthened.
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      Dr. Alan S. Ryan is an anthropologist and Director of Clinical Research at Martek Biosciences Corporation. His primary interests include infant feeding practices, growth and development, and nutrition.


      Mr. Zhou is a senior statistician with expertise in large survey sampling and weighting techniques. His primary interests include statistical modeling and forecasting.


      Dr. Mary Beth Arensberg is a registered dietitian with interests in infant nutrition and nutrition and health policy across the age spectrum.